Indiana Avenue looks for revival: Cultural plan: stresses retail, residential growth, and a possible extension

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Indiana Avenue looks for revival Cultural plan stresses retail, residential growth, and a possible extension

Indiana Avenue’s glory days as a haven for black-owned businesses and vibrant nightclubs exists only in the history books. But a plan to revitalize the city’s newest cultural district could restore some of the luster.

City leaders completed the blueprint for redevelopment early this year and now are in the early stages of executing a plan that organizers say could take 20 years to play out.

Much of the proposal includes a mix of retail and residential space along the historic diagonal corridor extending from New York Street northwest to West 10th Street.

The endeavor may seem ambitious for a street whose landmark Madame Walker Theatre-named for black entrepreneur Madame C.J. Walker-so far has failed to attract any meaningful business development since it reopened in 1988. Organizers are undeterred, though.

“What we have now is a very bold, longterm, far-reaching plan and vision,” said Julia Watson, vice president of Indianapolis Downtown Inc., a not-for-profit that works to promote downtown. “It will involve many, many people and many organizations, and is something that will only occur over a long period of time. It’s not a quick and easy.”

Plans call for a cluster of mixed-use development at the base of the avenue near New York Street in which each project would include about 125,000 square feet of residential space and roughly 60,000 square feet of retail space. Another in the area calls for less than 10,000 square feet of retail space to accompany 43 town homes and 950 parking lots.

Farther up the avenue, north of Michigan Street and across from the theater, planners are proposing a mammoth development. It would consist of more than 1 million square feet of retail, office, residential and classroom space, and a 2,550-space parking deck.

And on the theater block, the vision is to attract nearly 20,000 square feet of retail space and 36,800 square feet of office space, while creating a street-front presence for Freetown Village.

The nearly 25-year-old organization provides live performances about black history in Indiana and is one of six destinations deemed “cultural assets” within the district.

The others are the theater, Crispus Attacks Museum, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Ransom Place Museum and Heritage Learning Center, and the residential neighborhoods of Ransom Place and Flanner House Homes.

The district’s authenticity combined with new development should make Indiana Avenue an attractive destination, supporters said.

“Unlike Massachusetts Avenue, we don’t have the storefronts. We’re going to have to create those things,” said Dorothy Jones, president of the neighborhood BOS Community Development Corp. “We think that the timing is right to do some of these things.”

Environmental enhancements

The CDC is taking the lead in bringing the blueprint for development to fruition. Existing committees within the organization are taking pieces of the plan to ensure it moves forward, Jones said.

In the initial stages, directors are packaging information to make developers aware of available properties in the district. Another goal they want to accomplish this year is to establish a welcome center inside the theater where visitors can locate maps and brochures.

Extending the road is a possibility as well. Indiana Avenue once reached north as far as 16th Street, but is now called Stadium Drive north of 10th Street. Organizers are proposing changing Stadium Drive back to Indiana Avenue, extending streetscape improvements all the way to 16th Street, where the BioCrossroads life sciences park is emerging.

Converting West Street, which intersects Indiana Avenue, into a tree-lined avenue with large crosswalks and timed traffic lights to accommodate pedestrians also is on the drawing board.

A campaign already is under way by the Rotary Club of Indianapolis to build a gateway at Interstate 65 and West Street that would further the city’s mission of its becoming a major cultural destination.

Five finalists will receive $7,500 from Rotary Foundation of Indianapolis to submit a detailed proposal for a landmark that is expected to cost $5 million to $10 million. Rotary is searching for funding partners to cover construction costs.

IUPUI an asset

Brian Epstein, president of local real estate firm Urban Space Commercial Properties, agreed the area has potential. The nearby IUPUI campus and existing student housing will make it easier to attract residential and retail development. However, a lack of office space might make it more challenging to lure more, he said.

At the northern edge of the cultural district, on West 11th Street at the head of the Central Canal, developers are renovating Buggs Temple. When it opens in July, the former church will house a Ritter’s Frozen Custard outlet, a restaurant, coffee shop and public rest rooms.

Ritter’s, restaurateur Chuck Mack and Meridian Asset Development are teaming up on the redevelopment.

Mack, owner of the Moe & Johnny’s tavern in Broad Ripple, said he did not know enough about the plan to transform Indiana Avenue into a cultural district to provide a comment. But he said summer events he plans to schedule at Buggs, such as a jazz concert, kids’ day and regatta, will bring traffic to the area.

Claude McNeal, founder of the American Cabaret Theatre at the Athenaeum, has forgone retirement for the moment to consult on how to make the Madame Walker Theatre more viable. (See related story, page19A.)

He thinks the area, bolstered by the Heron School of Art and Design and the IU School of Music nearby on the IUPUI campus, is ripe to become an arts destination.

“Part of my job is to define what the avenue should be,” McNeal said. “It’s incredible to think what can come to life here.”

The city created the Cultural Districts Program in 2003 to support development in five pilot areas: Broad Ripple Village Fountain Square The Canal and White River State Park Massachusetts Avenue Wholesale District Indiana Avenue received approval in 2004 as the city’s sixth district. The area was a thriving business and cultural district from the early 1900s until the 1950s, when blacks began to move to other areas of the city as segregation eased. “It’s one of our most historic sites, and it’s a location that deserves a great amount of attention,” said Keira Amstutz, the city’s chief counsel and policy director. The program is part of the Cultural Tourism Initiative and is managed by IDI, with the assistance of The Corsaro Group, Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning Indianapolis Center, and the Cultural Districts Council.

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